Wednesday, 29 May 2013

JUNE 2013 - One crazy month of Sales Events at KnitTraders

Great deals on selected yarns throughout the month of JUNE.
WEEK 1-June 3rd - 8th   20%OFF  
all in-stock animal fibre yarns:
wool, alpaca, silk, mohair, (including the sock yarns)
WEEK 2-June 10th-15th    20% OFF
all vegetable based yarns:
cotton, bamboo.
WEEKS 3 & 4-June 17th to June 29th
Kingston and area's very first
Don't worry if you don't see a TENT - We're moving stock around to make room inside for your shopping comfort!
Thousands of dollars of merchandise is being shipped into our store to present to you at fabulous prices.
50% - 85% OFF Spinrite's best sellers from Patons Bernat Lily and Phentex
ALSO in Week 3 - June 17th-22nd 20% OFF all our in stock synthetic yarns including Sirdar Snuggly, Cascade Pacific, and so many more!
ALSO in Week 4 - June 24th - 29th 20% OFF any yarn in the store if you BUY THE BAG (usually 10 balls of the same colour.)

Monday, 20 May 2013

The Last Post

As I was packing up for our last bus trip back to Glasgow, I took this picture of my completed Wingspan Scarf. I just love it, it reminds me so much of the colours of Scotland -- when the sun is out.

During our 45 minute to wait for the ferry to bring us back to the mainland we visited the two VERY clever entrepreneurs who have opened businesses beside the tiny ferry terminal at the end of the road. I went in to Ragamuffin, and could have spent the day there. Gifts and fashions from all over Scotland, and all over the world. Across the way was Grumpy George's, where I hear the members of our group who went there also enjoyed themselves very much.

...On the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond.A full day of countryside through the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. This park, which contains Loch Lomond (the largest fresh water loch in the UK) was only established in 2001. As with most national parks there is a tug of war between those who want to make use of the natural riches within the park and those who want to preserve its pristine nature. Such a debate has sprung up in this new park with the result that an Australian company will soon be mining gold within the park under very strict guidelines.
Another interesting piece of Loch Lomond lore is that sheep were first introduced to the Highlands at Luss on its shores.

Here you go, you Harry Potter fans. This is the railway trestle in Glenfinnan which was used in the movies as the Hogwarts Express wound its way through the wilderness to and from school each year.

After checking into our hotel in Glasgow and heading over for the only disappointing meal of the whole trip, some of us walked over to the bar connected to The Tron Theatre to meet up with some Glaswegian knitters: Alie is sitting on the far right. Also present were Catherine who organized the get together, and Liz (who very patiently repeated her name for me several times as I couldn't make it out with the background noise and her lovely accent.)

Next morning we said goodbye to Iris who was heading on to London before returning to her husband in Hong Kong. The internet is an amazing tool, bringing Iris to join us for the 12 days and drawing other members of our group from Edmonton, Connecticut and Toronto.

It was a wonderful trip, but as I mentioned to a few people, they should get the Scottish Tourism Board to look into doing something about that weather! But considering the magnificent day we had to walk around Edinburgh, who can complain.

So here are a few pieces of Scottish lore that I didn't get to share with you before but I thought were worth mentioning:

-Hills that are over 2 000 feet are referred to as mountains. Those over 3 000 feet are monroes.

- Scotland uses the metric system for most things, however distances (such as the feet noted above and distances on highway signs) are still referred to using the old system.

-A wooden stick used to stir porridge is known as a spurtle.

-At the Tartan Exhibition in Edinburgh, I saw Canada's own Maple Leaf Tartan whose colours I so adore that I'm making a pair of socks from some yarn just because it had exactly the same colours as my beloved Maple Leaf tartan.

-The specific identification of tartans for individual clans only dates back to the 19th century.

-A kilt is really just a pleated tartan skirt. Wearing the Plaid however refers to the real deal where men (never women) would suit up by pleating about 1/2 of a very long piece of tartan material on the ground then lying on it to attach it around themselves with a large belt. The remainder would be worn over their shoulder so it could be raised to protect from the rain. At night it could be used as a blanket, and at the end of their days, it was used a shroud.

-The game of Rugby was originated by a Scottish butcher. No surprising considering the shape of the ball.

-The famed castle of Eilean Donan cost approximately 250 000 pounds to bring back from its state of ruin in the early 20th century. The shoring up work on a single wall, which is going on today is estimated to cost the same amount.

-Many of us on the tour discovered a wonderful Scottish mystery writer (besides Ian Rankin, of course): Peter May whose trilogy about Inspector Fin Macleod, who grew up on the Isle of Lewis but works in Edinburgh, had us rushing to our rooms in spare time to continue the saga.

-You cannot easily find deep fried Mars Bars, despite what you've been told.

-Scotland is a magical place of glorious scenery and generous people.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Around the Isle

We spent 2 nights on the Isle of Skye and it was the most enchanting part of the trip.

Here are a few details about the area:
The name Skye is from the Viking era and means cloud in Norse.
Today, the island has a population  of about 10 000 but in the 18th century it was 40 000. About 20% of the islanders speak Gaelic.
The biggest industry, besides tourism is fish farming, usually salmon, which is Scotland's largest food export.
Forests cover 17% of the Isle of Skye.
When Prince Charles visits the area, he is referred to as the Duke of Rothesay, one of his many official titles.
Cape Breton's very own Giant Angus McAskill was born in Dunvegan on Skye.
I swear that this picture was taken one handed from a moving bus. You can even see the bus's shadow along the bottom. It says much about the amazing ability of digital cameras, but also a lot about the beauty of the landscape. And look at that sky! There were many such idyllic moments (and many wetter ones too.)

Our first stop was to The Shalisdair Shop. They're open 7 days a week from 10am-6pm from Easter until the end of October, and during the rest of the year by appointment. I only mention this because of how astonishing it is. A few years ago I arrived at a yarn store on the Upper East Side of Manhattan on a Monday in August to discover that they weren't open on Mondays. Yet  The Shalisdair Shop in Waternish, which is a one hour trek through tiny country roads from the bridge that brings one to the Isle,  is open 8 hours daily. Bravo for their commitment to their customers, and it was well worth the effort. Somehow the journey only adds to how special it is.

Here is a wall of their gorgeous, one of a kind sweaters which are all for sale, as well as yarn and a wonderful assortment of local crafts and accessories. It was a joy to spend time there. Needless to say, a few purchases were made during the hour we visited.
But the biggest treat of all was meeting Eva, the dye-master. Eva was born in Germany just before the Second World War, grew up in the US, came to Scotland to go to school, and told us that she became only the second landowner in the area who was not born on the Isle of Skye. These days landowners from away outnumber natives.
Eva has been using dyestuff from natural plants, perfecting her techniques over decades, and is renowned across the UK for her expertise. She works in a small workshop with equipment picked up from larger dyeing operations around Scotland as they shut their doors. She explained that red was the most expensive colour to produce as it came from the cochenille beetle, and was consequently used mainly as an accent colour in tartans, or for fancy dress versions.
 Eva's operation buys locally spun yarns, the works the magic of the organic colours to create a unique look that reflects the beauty of the country around.
Our next stop was just a bit down the road to Skyeskins, a proud family run tanning operation. But as the demo area was quite small and we were chilled, some of us took refuge at the gallery of Ian Williams, an artist who retired 12 years ago from his job as a policeman to the Isle of Skye. The sign in front of Ian's place advertises: GALLERY, ART, CAFE, TOILETS (obviously of varying degrees of importance to those who drive by his home in Waternish.)
 The coffee was great, the homemade scones with butter and his wife's jam were sent directly from heaven, but the best part was meeting Ian himself. He looks very relaxed here. I'm not sure how it was possible to get him in such a pose as I remember that he was as busy as "a one-armed paper hanger", making coffee and serving about 25 unexpected guests all by himself during the hour that we were at Skyeskins.

What a great tour of the tanning operation at Skyeskins. It has always been a mystery to me how the shaggy fleece on the back of outdoor sheep could possibly be teased and cleaned to the degree of perfection that we find in finished sheepskins. It's no longer a mystery, but a lot of hard handwork on the part of a whole series of skilled and knowledgeable people.
Here we see a hide drying "on tenterhooks" after being "stretched to the limit", these expressions having made their way into our modern language. 

On to Portree, the population centre of the Isle of Skye (pop. 2 491 according to Wikipedia).
I took a walk through town after lunch and discovered this lovely scene of gorse bushes. I imagine that to the locals it would be like taking a picture of a pile of dandelions but they were so ever present during this trip that I felt it was important to remember the lowly, if prickly bush.
Portree is actually a lovely town with dozens of shops for everything from traditional music to batik clothing, from handmade pottery to haggis. And yes, they even have a lovely store called Over The Rainbow, which among its sweaters and shawls and general merchandise designed to appeal to tourists had a lovely wall of knitting yarn.

And what trip to Scotland would be complete without a picture of a thatched cottage? Actually I was surprised at how few of these cottages there were to be seen. Our bus driver, Ian, pulled over and let us out to get a picture of this beautifully maintained cottage, insisting that we open the gate (that said "private") to go in and get a better picture as there was no car visible on the property. We didn't feel comfortable barging in, despite the fact that apparently there are no laws in Scotland to prevent a person from trespassing. I believe that Marion our guide was relieve.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

"Over the sea to Skye".

...So goes the lovely Skye Boat Song about the escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie. But before we get there we have a good drive down the west side of Loch Ness and across the magical Highlands. Then later in the afternoon we'll cross- not on a boat to ferry us across - but via the new bridge over to the famed Isle of Skye.

These are the Scottish Highlands, which explains why skiing is such an important part of tourism in this region. Who knew?
And these too are the Highlands, desert and barren.But always impressive.
Our first pit stop of the day is magical. This young couple is Duncan, the Highlander with Barb, one of our group. In his retirement, Duncan is the keeper of  "wee Heeland Coos".
And these are Pheona and Iona. Duncan explained that these were wild cattle that by law, if you catch them and bring them down from the mountains, they're yours. Duncan also told us that they, and the 2 larger dark "coos" from Orkney who graze in his field, are not actually "coos" at all but bulls. They are much more docile without the presence of females apparently. (By the way, the largest of the dark ones is called Guinness).

In the Highlands all of the roadsigns are in both Gaelic (pronounced like garlic without the R) and English. Although only about 2% of the Scottish population  speaks Gaelic there has been a great resurgence in interest. The education system here has followed our Canadian French Immersion model and is introducing Gaelic to children from the earliest grades in their Gaelic Medium Education system.

You may recognize the castle at Eilean Donan, set of many Scottish themed movies, most notably Highlander from the '80's. It is still owned by members of the Clan McRae and the areas of the castle that tourists are allowed to visit are dotted with pictures of the family and their children. They use the castle to celebrate special occasions and allow others to use it for weddings and the like.
The kitchen area was one of the most impressive displays I've seen with life size wax figures carrying out the duties of the day. I swear I could even smell butter scones baking in the oven.

This is Sue from Britain, who was not part of our group but who was sitting in the cafeteria at Eilean Donan. I asked her if she had knit her sweater and told her that I recognized the yarn that she had used: Riot DK. The poor woman must have wondered what kind of an obsessive freak I was to go around identifying the yarns that people use to knit their clothes until I explained about the Knitting Tour. She was thrilled for us, and more than happy to model her sweater.
Our driver, Ian, felt it his duty to find all the best places for us to get good shots. This was one of the first of the photo stops of the day. I know this because the sun was still shining (it got cloudy and wet later on) and we all got out to take pictures. By the end of our tour of the Highlands, only the most stalwart photographers got out to take advantage of the magnificent scenery.

For you fans of Hamish MacBeth of PBS Television fame, we spent an hour in Plockton, an absolutely delightful fishing village that the fictional and unorthodox Scottish constable calls home.

Another intriguing aspect of Plockton is the micro-climate that they enjoy producing this magnificent camelia bush and shoreline palm trees far north of Glasgow where the leaves were hardly beginning to sprout on the trees.
Our hotel was just over the bridge on the Isle of Skye. And 82m from its front door (he actually measured it out for us when I was concerned about how far we'd have to walk) is Teo and his delightful shop: The Handspinner Having Fun. Intriguing hand dyed, and spun yarns, buttons, garments etc in a shop from which you can throw a stone into the North Sea. What a welcome to Skye.
And to finish off a magical day was Alan, who performs at the hotel every Thursday and Sunday evenings. A classically trained accordionist with a glorious tenor voice and a sense of good fun to get the audience going. We were told that when the tourist season is really underway in a few weeks it will be standing room only for his performances. Off to our rooms for a good sleep, lulled by the winds and sounds of the sea, to restore our energies in order to take on the peculiarities of the plumbing system at the hotel.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

North to Inverness.

A bit of rain to start off this non-sheep day, as we made our way north through the changing countryside.
We drove parallel to but not into St Andrews of golf fame. Marion our guide pointed out these important facts about the University there: it is the oldest university in Scotland but of much greater interest, it was where William and Kate met. And the rest as they say, is history .

 We made our way to Pitlochry, home of a renowned summer theater festival. A beautiful town with a mile of pubs, shops and boutiques.

  We dropped some of our party off in town and the rest of us  took the tour of Edradour's: Scotland's smallest distillery in this idyllic setting. (There are daffodils everywhere at this time of the year in Scotland).

What an experience! Because of some timing issues, we had to begin our tour in the tasting room - how unfortunate, Not! A "wee dram" of the smoothest of whiskeys (their 10 year-old), and a cream liqueur that was like white velvet. What a way to start the day.

Our guide, Beryl explained that because they truly are the smallest distillery in Scotland they make as much whiskey in one year as Glenfiddich does in 3 days. A fact in which they take great pride. She also pointed out that up to 1/4 of the whiskey in each cask will evaporate over the 10 years that it ages. This is known as the angel's share. These casks are in their second lives, having previously held bourbon, port, sherry or other such rich beverages. The residue will flavour the whiskey with a distinctive taste.

Lunch of fish and chips in a cozy pub, then on to Inverness, the largest centre in the Highlands.

We walked into the Royal Highlands Hotel as if we were walking walking back a century into the glorious foyer. The hotel is next to the train station, a central hub for the northern part of the island. When it was built guests would come into this foyer directly from the station to the left of the grand stairway.

 A walk along the River Ness brought me to a pedestrian bridge that crossed over to an island populated with these most amazing park benches, each one of a different design and carved entirely from a single block of wood. Back down the other side of the river towards town for a super view of Inverness Castle. (If it isn't an abbey, it's a castle in every town. Sometimes both.)

I'd heard tha, as Inverness is at a more northerly longitude than Labrador City, we would be seeing very late sunsets and early sunrises. I was up at 6am to McDonald's seeking their free wifi (with the help of wee Stephen, as they say, the kindest McDonald's employee in the UK), and snapped this picture. The sun had been up for at least an hour at that point. And just look at this cloudless sky. The weather gods have been smiling on us for sure during this entire trip.

A Knitter's Day in Edinburgh

What a glorious afternoon, a truly exceptional city - especially for knitters. Imagine the weather hitting 22 degrees, the bluest of skies, making my way through the city to 5 different sources for so many different yarns. It's enough to drive one to fibre distraction.

My trek took me to discover one of a kind, indie dyed yarns at K1 Yarn Knitting Boutique in the Old Town, to McAree Brothers Haberdashery and Knitting, and Kathy's Knits just down the street in the New Town, with 2 excellent department store offerings in between. I was truly amazed at the variety of what was so easily available for knitters here, all within walking distance of each other.

 I had a particularly good visit with Catherine at K1 and Heather at McAree Brothers. There is some sort of kinship that comes out when people hear about our knitting tour. They find it odd, interesting, but mostly they find it completely alluring. I wonder if local knitters in Edinburgh realize how fortunate they are to have such a selection in a city of 500 000.


That evening we were thrilled to have Emily Wessel (on left) of Tin Can Knits come to visit us. Emily and her partner Alexa Ludeman, used to work together in a yarn store in Vancouver. They began designing and collaborating on publishing their knitwear designs, and have produced 2 enthusiastically received collections: Nine Months of Knitting, and Pacific Knits. 

Emily moved to Edinburgh 2 years ago and they’ve been able to continue their collaboration, extending their reach over 2 continents.

 Emily was thrilled to announce that sometime this week, the e-book version of their newest collection: Handmade in the U.K. will be hitting the internet waves.  Here are sisters Ginger at left and Lucie holding up my favourite of the collection. Link to their website to see samples of the designs and get information about ordering shortly.

Having seen many of the sample garments, I was awestruck. The creativity and attention to detail in each of their designs  was superb. We were all thrilled to have the opportunity to fondle the glorious fibres in such wonderful designs. Emily’s visit was truly  the cherry on the sundae of our time to Edinburgh.

To finish off this segment of knitting in Edinburgh, I wanted to make sure that everyone saw that I managed to finish the first of my mittens in Turtlepurl’s Softshell Worsted, a rich blend of BFL wool, cashmere and nylon in the Detour Mitts that I committed to in the last newsletter. 

Unfortunately, my elbow has been bothering me, and I know from past experience that I’m better off passing on knitting anything that puts stress on the elbow, that is to say, anything cabled and firm such as the second mitten. But I’m working diligently on the Wingspan scarf that is turning out to be a perfect representation of the colours of Scotland: the greens of the hills, the yellows of the gorse bushes and daffodils, the blues, pinks and purples of the heather. I promise a picture as soon as it’s off the needles.